Lewis Greene is eighty-one years old and is landlord of the Greene Hall estate near Westport in Co Mayo, Ireland. His wife, Matilda (Tilda) Greene, nee Walker, is seventy-five years old. They married in 1834 and Tilda fell pregnant soon afterwards but it wasn’t until she gave birth that it was discovered she was carrying twins. Martha, Isobel Fitzgerald’s mother, was born first but the second baby took a long time to be born. It was a boy – an heir to the Greene Hall estate – and he was named Miles.
Soon, however, it became evident that Miles was not developing like other children. He was examined by the Greene’s doctor and he was deemed to be – in the terminology of the time – a ‘simpleton’ or an ‘idiot’.
Tilda blamed herself and could not bear to even look at her son and when she claimed he was beginning to frighten Martha, Lewis made the decision to send Miles away to St Patrick’s Hospital in Dublin – an asylum where he could be cared for properly. Lewis watched his year-old son being driven away in a carriage down the drive then let it be known that Miles had died and a large funeral was held for him.
Lewis and Tilda hoped they would have another son who would inherit the estate, but it was not to be and Martha had an isolated childhood, spending most of her time in the nursery with her nanny and nursery maid and then with her governess when the nursery became the schoolroom. A few days after her twenty-first birthday, Martha ran away to elope with the Reverend Edmund Stevens, the Church of Ireland (Anglican) curate of Ballyglas Parish and her parents disowned her.
Having lost both his children, Lewis’ interest in the Greene Hall estate dwindled and, as he aged, he spent more and more time in his library with his books. Tilda had more of an interest in the estate but the land agent, Mr Dudley, took no notice because she was a woman. Mr Dudley was given a free rein and, like many land agents, became feared and hated in the locality.
When Lewis’ health began to decline, Tilda devoted all her time to caring for him. But when Lewis’ doctor informs him that he has lung disease and it will kill him, Tilda is appalled and fearful when, not only do his thoughts turn to their son, but he resolves to go to Dublin and see Miles. Tilda does not want to go – both her children are dead to her – but Lewis insists and he has Knox, his butler, make inquiries as to the whereabouts of their daughter. Martha and her children are easy to locate, especially when the notice announcing the engagement between Martha and James Ellison is published in The Irish Times.
Lewis rents a house on Fitzwilliam Square and his granddaughter Isobel spots him in the congregation in St Peter’s Church on Aungier Street on her mother’s wedding day. That evening, Lewis confesses a secret to Isobel, her husband, Will, and her brother, Alfie – one which has been kept for over forty years – his son is alive – and he wants to see Miles one last time before he dies. This presents a huge conundrum. Martha believes her twin brother died at a year old and what, if anything, has Miles been told about his parents and family? How will he react when he is told that his mother does not wish to be reunited with him but that the father who sent him away to an asylum does? Will Lewis Greene ever get his dying wish?
Dublin, Ireland, 1881. Isobel Fitzgerald’s mother, Martha, marries solicitor James Ellison but an unexpected guest overshadows their wedding day. Martha’s father is dying and he is determined to clear his conscience before it is too late. Lewis Greene’s confession ensures the Ellisons’ expectation of a quiet married life is gone and that Isobel’s elder brother, Alfie Stevens, will be the recipient of an unwelcome inheritance.
When a bewildering engagement notice is published in The Irish Times, the name of one of the persons concerned sends Will and Isobel on a race against time across Dublin and forces them to break a promise and reveal a closely guarded secret.
Read an Excerpt from Chapter One…
Hurrying to the east side of the square as heavy drizzle began to fall, [Isobel] saw a small group of people bending over a figure lying on the pavement which surrounded the railings and the gardens.
“I am Dr Fitzgerald, stand back, please,” Will instructed and they did as he asked. She crouched down on one side of Mr Greene while Will knelt on the other and felt her grandfather’s neck for a pulse. “He’s alive,” he told her before running his fingers across the elderly man’s scalp. “But only just. And he’s very cold but, thankfully, there is no head injury. Are all of you servants in number 7?” he asked the group and one smartly-dressed man in his fifties stepped forward with Mr Greene’s top hat and walking cane in his hands.
“Yes, we are, Dr Fitzgerald,” he replied. “I am Knox, Mr and Mrs Greene’s butler.”
“Please ask for some water to be heated and round up as many hot water bottles as you can find.”
“Yes, Dr Fitzgerald.” The butler turned to a maid who accepted the top hat and cane from him and ran across the street and down the areaway steps.
“Please help me carry Mr Greene upstairs to a bedroom.”
Isobel picked up Will’s medical bag as he took Mr Greene’s shoulders and Knox gripped Mr Greene’s ankles. She tailed them as her grandfather was borne across the street, up the steps and into the gas-lit hall but she halted at the front door.
“Where is Mrs Greene?” she asked a red-haired maid about to go down the areaway steps.
“I am here,” a severe voice announced from behind her and Isobel turned around.
At five feet eight inches, Isobel was considered tall for a woman. Standing in the morning room doorway, her grandmother was equally tall but as thin as Isobel was curvaceous. Plaited wavy grey hair was wound into a bun at the nape of her neck and she wore a purple satin dress. Mrs Greene looked her and then Will up and down, taking in her hastily tied-back hair and his lack of hat, collar and cravat. An eyebrow rose and Isobel fought to control a flush of embarrassment.
“Tell me what is needed and you shall have it,” her grandmother added crisply.
“Thank you, we shall,” Isobel replied before closing the front door and following the others up the stairs.
Her grandfather was brought to a large bedroom on the second floor at the front of the house and laid on the double bed. Will unbuttoned Mr Greene’s overcoat and raised him into a sitting position so the butler could peel it off. Discreetly turning her back, Isobel accepted her grandfather’s clothes from Knox as they were removed layer by layer. The overcoat was wet and the other clothes were damp and couldn’t be hung up in the huge mahogany wardrobe so she draped them over the back of a balloon-back bedroom chair so they could be taken away to be dried and aired.
When she turned back, Mr Greene was lying on the bed dressed in a white nightshirt and Will was returning a thermometer to his medical bag. Lifting out his stethoscope, he raised her grandfather into a sitting position again and Knox held Mr Greene’s shoulders while Will listened to his phlegmatic breathing and put the stethoscope away fighting back a grimace. Her grandfather was painfully thin and as Will lifted him up, Isobel pulled the bedcovers back. Mr Greene was placed in the bed and she covered him up to his chin.
“I asked for hot water bottles, where are they?” Will asked.
“I’ll go and see, Dr Fitzgerald.” The butler strode to the door and left the room.
“Does he have hypothermia?” she asked.
“No, but it could develop,” Will replied as the door opened again and her grandmother came in. “He must have been lying on the pavement since he left number 55 two hours ago.”
“My husband was determined to return there and speak with you and I assumed he was still with you,” Mrs Greene informed them. “Did not one of you offer to escort him back here?”
“I did,” Will said. “But he declined.”
“Will he live?” she asked, walking to the bed and gently smoothing long and bony fingers over her husband’s sparse white hair.
“Mr Greene is very cold but his temperature must be raised slowly,” Will said as a footman and two maids hurried into the room each carrying two hot water bottles and Isobel lowered the bedcovers. “Place all of them in the bed – not too close to Mr Greene – good. Thank you.”
“Can nothing else be done for him?” her grandmother asked as the servants left the bedroom and Isobel pulled the bedcovers up again.
“Sit with him, Mrs Greene, have the hot water bottles refilled every two hours, and raise his temperature.”
“Well.” Mrs Greene went to the bedroom chair and sat down, clasping her hands tightly together on her lap. “The boy has finally proved to be the death of my husband. My husband insisted on coming to Dublin. He insisted on reacquainting himself with Martha. And he insisted on telling you about the boy.”
‘The boy’ was now a man in his mid-forties but Isobel bit her tongue.
“You did not want Grandfather to meet Mother again?” Isobel asked and her grandmother fixed a cold stare on her.
“Your mother could have married into Lord Sligo’s family but she chose to run away from home and marry the curate of Ballyglas Parish. I knew the marriage would be disastrous and so it proved. She sent many letters bemoaning her situation and begging my husband and I to take her and her children in but, as you make your bed, so you must lie in it.”
“She told you Father was violent and you did nothing?” Isobel demanded.
“I burned the letters,” her grandmother replied matter-of-factly. “Your mother had made her choice and so she must live with that choice.”
“I did grasp your initial meaning,” Isobel replied tightly.
“I am so glad the items she stole from Greene Hall to pay for your excessively expensive education at Cheltenham Ladies College and for your brother’s at Harrow didn’t altogether go to waste.”
Isobel’s jaw dropped. “She stole from Greene Hall?”
“You thought that despite our pleas to your mother not to marry a man unworthy of her, your grandfather paid her marriage portion?” Mrs Greene smiled humourlessly. “No. He did not. Yours and your brother’s education were paid for by stolen property. Unfortunately, you chose to waste every penny by whoring yourself to a farm boy.”
“I did not whore myself to James,” she retorted, clenching her fists but unable to stop herself shaking with rage. “He seduced me.”
“You exude an overt sensuality, Isobel, which men are unable to resist,” her grandmother told her crisply, making a point of looking her up and down again. “I doubt very much if he needed too much of an excuse to get you on your back.”
“That is enough,” Will snapped and Mrs Greene gave him an icy smile.
“Took a fancy to Isobel in her parlourmaid’s uniform, did you, Dr Fitzgerald? Most men would not wish to touch soiled goods.”
“You have said quite enough. Isobel – we’re leaving.”
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Cover photo credit: Wilhelm Roentgen (1845-1923), German physicist, received the first Nobel Prize for Physics, in 1901, for his discovery of X-rays in 1895: Everett Historical/Shutterstock.com and Portrait of a man in a top hat and morning suit holding a cane: Everett Historical/Shutterstock.com
Cover photo credit: Florence Court, County Fermanagh, Northern Ireland: phb.cz/Depositphotos.com
Photo credit: A portrait of an elderly couple: The digital photographic collections of the Community Archives of Belleville and Hastings County, based in Belleville, Ontario: Public Domain Mark 1.0
Photo credit: Florence Court, near Enniskillen, Co. Fermanagh, Northern Ireland – by Andrew Humphreys and used under CC BY-SA 2.5
An article in today’s Irish Times made me think about bookshops. Being an e-book, Only You will only be available to purchase online, and I have fed my new Kindle with some good e-books, but I still love to browse for physical books in a physical bookshop!
The bookshop which came the closest to being my favourite moved out of my local town centre last year. I was extremely disappointed as it was where I would buy the vast majority of my genealogy, history, and especially local history books. It also had a wide selection of fiction, non-fiction, and poetry. It did not simply stock the Top Ten. It was quite small, and it didn’t have a coffee shop, but the staff were helpful and I enjoyed browsing and buying there.
So what is left book-wise in my local town? Well, there is a shop which doesn’t really know what it wants to be. Newsagent? Stationers? Gift shop? Bookshop? It’s a bit of a jumble stock-wise and I rarely shop there. The only other bookshop in the town used to be a second hand bookshop and still has the air of one. I know that sounds snobbish but it really could do with a makeover and I find it just the wrong side of gloomy. It also has quite a strange range of books – the very cheap and the very expensive – and not much in between.
Increasingly, I find myself browsing for books in the increasing numbers of charity shops popping up in towns all over Ireland. You never know what you might find in charity shops, and you do find the odd gem amongst the numerous copies of Angela’s Ashes, but I now find myself buying the vast majority of my physical books online.
Even when I’m over in the UK, I notice the number of bookshops decreasing each time I visit the town nearest to where my Mum lives. One of the branches of Waterstones I used to work in is now gone, it was merged with another branch nearby. The second hand bookshop I loved, as it was absolutely crammed with books from floor to ceiling in every category imaginable, has also gone. I really miss that one as it had lots of British history books I just wouldn’t find here in Ireland. I picked up quite a few books to feed my interest in Richard III and The Wars of the Roses in that shop.
I also found a copy of Thom’s Directory there. It is an Irish commercial and street directory and is very useful in genealogy research. I rarely find them on sale so I bought it and because it is so thick and heavy – about two or three kilos – I had to bring it home in my hand luggage. Naturally, I got stopped at security at Stansted Airport as this huge mass showed up on their screens and they couldn’t figure out what it was. I had to lift the huge book out of my bag to show them and the security man looked at it, looked at me, then said, “Like reading, do you?” LOL
There is one independent bookshop left on the High Street in that town and I wonder for how long it can survive? Luckily, the town has a vast number of charity shops – twenty-nine at my last count – and I can spend a full day ‘doing’ them all.
The Irish Times article is Dublin-specific, but back in the day when I used to regularly travel to Dublin to undertake genealogy research, I could plan my route to and from the station via all the city centre bookshops! I haven’t been in Dublin in quite a while and I wonder how many of them are still there as the article doesn’t mention quite a few of the bookshops I remember. Back when I could still eat cheese, the café in Hodges Figgis used to do a delicious Tuna Melt sandwich!
Recently, HMV in Ireland has shut up shop so, locally, there is nowhere I can find a good selection of non-Top Ten DVDs now. I realised sadly the other day that there are now no shops I would go to town to browse in – they’ve all gone. It’s such a shame that there is now less and less choice. Yes, shopping online is cheap and convenient but I do miss being able to browse in a bookshop and, more than likely, buy something. The online retailers must be rubbing their hands together with glee.
When I was little I devoured everything Enid Blyton wrote – The Famous Five, The Secret Seven, Malory Towers, St. Clair’s – everything! I then moved on to anything with horses in it, Nancy Drew, and the Sweet Valley High series. Then hormones kicked in and I went through a pop music magazine phase – Smash Hits and Number One. After that I moved on to adult books but whenever I think of my childhood books, I think of Enid Blyton.
My favourite author as an adult is Sharon Kay Penman. I bought her doorstopper The Sunne in Splendour when I was on a school trip to Belfast. The sheer length of it (886 pages) intimidated me for a couple of years but when I did read it, I loved it, and I managed to track down all her other novels while I was at college in Dublin. Her latest, Lionheart, is on my Amazon wishlist!
I also love her Welsh trilogy (Here Be Dragons; Falls The Shadow; The Reckoning) about the last years of independent Wales, not just because of the brilliant writing but because I was brought up in North Wales and I have either been to, or know of most of the locations in the books. I can read them again and again.
Another of my favourite authors is Phil Rickman, who writes the Merrily Watkins mystery series. Merrily is a single mum, a Church of England (Anglican) priest but she is also a Diocesan Exorcist, so there is often a paranormal twist to the mysteries. Every book in the series is a great and unique read!
Honourable mentions go to Star of the Sea, Joseph O’Connor’s famine epic; the late Diana Norman, author of Daughter of Lir a brilliant novel about Ireland just before the Norman Conquest; and Jude the Obscure by Thomas Hardy, probably the saddest book I’ve read yet.